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Brain-Boosting Supplements

In our previous two Health Tips, we discussed the most common causes of brain fog. The first of these focused on stress. When there’s so much you’re anxious about, your logical thinking, mental clarity, and memory become overwhelmed to the extent that you’ve added yet another stressor.

“Is this early dementia?” you may wonder. Well at least some of you seeing the election results might feel a little less stressed. Possibly you’ve even noticed that you’re thinking more clearly already.

Unfortunately, there’s still Covid-19 to worry us.

In our second Health Tip on brain fog, I offered a list of commonly overlooked but easily treated causes, including medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies, subtle hypothyroidism, dehydration, food sensitivities, obstructive sleep apnea, and even low-level chronic brain inflammation from a person’s genetic susceptibility to the toxins of certain species of common household molds.

An alert reader also called my attention to toxic metals, which some people react to while others do not, but testing for them should be included as part of any diagnostic work-up for unexplained brain fog.

On to smart drugs
This week, I’m going to review a class of supplements called nootropics, also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers. The word nootropic is a relatively new one, invented in 1972, though the term itself derives from two words from the ancient Greek, “mind” and “turning.”

Nootropics include any substance that aids memory and learning, protects your brain from toxins (especially free radicals and inflammation), enhances cognitive function, and is itself nontoxic.

You might be able to guess the most widely used nootropic on Planet Earth. Yes, it’s coffee, and if you notice a subtle improvement in my writing here, I owe it to the second cup of coffee at my side.

Physician-prescribed nootropics
You also might have heard about the common physician-prescribed nootropics, mainly used for attention deficit disorder (ADD and ADHD). Adderall, Vyvanse, and Ritalin are all classified as psychostimulants and generously (though illegally) shared by college students during finals.

Two others, Provigil and Nuvigil, are prescribed for “promoting wakefulness,” one of several medical conditions invented by Big Pharma to sell a product they didn’t know what to do with.

The company couldn’t get FDA approval to prescribe these drugs for ADD, so they created conditions such as “chronic daytime sleepiness” and “shift worker sleep disorder” to get an FDA thumbs-up.

Although none of these psychostimulants is toxic when taken correctly, they all have side effects, and often quite annoying ones. If your dose is too high, or you simply can’t tolerate the med, you feel the sensation of having drunk too much coffee.

Hundreds of smart drugs from which to choose
When I last looked on amazon.com, there were literally hundreds of nootropic supplements, totally confusing to the general consumer who simply wouldn’t know where to begin.

However, if you read the labels carefully, all contain variations of the same relatively small number of ingredients, which I’ll list here. Click on the name of the substance to be linked to an article that explains its inclusion as a nootropic.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALC) is one of the most well-researched of the memory enhancers. It is used mainly by older adults, though it works for anyone experiencing memory issues. 

Phosphatidyl serine (PS) is a versatile memory enhancer that acts on the brain chemical acetylcholine, required for focus and memory. 

Phosphatidyl choline (PC) Also sold as citicholine, PC is another memory enhancer, shown to be especially effective in older adults who are showing mild cognitive decline. 

Vinpocetine (VP) is a synthesized molecule created from the periwinkle plant that has been shown to enhance memory and focus by increasing blood flow to the brain and also brain metabolism.

Huperzine (HUP) is derived from Chinese club moss and increases levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Small clinical trials have shown effectiveness for memory issues.

Green Tea This familiar and very potent antioxidant has passed clinical trials for memory enhancement and focus. If the brain-boosting supplement you choose doesn’t contain green tea, drinking one cup daily is sufficient.

Spearmint extract (Mentha spicata) is a new addition to the nootropic family, shown to enhance memory and focus, especially in younger people.

Other nutritional products have a long history of being used as nootropics, though they have less clinical research behind them. These include gingko, gotu kola, Siberian ginseng, lion’s mane mushroom, DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol), ashwagandha, glutamate, saffron, methyl B12, and B6.

After looking through dozens of products for the nootropic section of our WholeHealth Chicago Apothecary, we finally settled on just three. What I suggest you do is select any one of them and use it for a month. Then switch to taking the next one for a month, and finally the last.

Keep using them in rotation and you’ll be covering all aspects of brain health and memory enhancement.

–Neurotone (Douglas Labs)  Key ingredients: ALC, PS, Gingko, DMAE, ashwagandha, Eleuthero, glutamate.
Take two tablets twice daily.

–Neurologix (Integrative Therapeutics)  Key ingredients: SPEAR, PC, B6, saffron.
Take two capsules twice daily.

Cognicare (Researched Nutritionals) Key ingredients: HUP, ALC, PS, glutamate, tyrosine, VIN, Methyl B12, B6.

Take two capsules twice daily.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Eileen Harakal says:

    What about BodyBio PC, complex of Phospholipids, for “mental focus, brain function, and cellular repair”? I got it from your apothecary.

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Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.


• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

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